(This post was originally published on the Ohio District – LCMS website for the congregations and leaders of our District.)
In the Ohio District, our churches are looking for hope.
- Hope they can hold onto their youth and young adults.
- Hope that they can find the funding to keep the church doors open.
- Hope that they can find volunteers to keep important programs rolling.
- Hope that God will add new members.
- Hope they can resolve tensions and conflicts.
What Happened to Hope?
We know all too well society has changed. Where confessing Lutherans were once marginalized by society, now we find opposition. Biblical views on the sanctity of human life and marriage are not just mocked, but in some quarters considered hateful. It’s hard to be hopeful when you know you’re swimming upstream against the currents of culture.
Our leadership started sounding the clarion call about our decline over a decade ago. Average worship attendance is still in declining. We’re still losing a frightening percentage of our youth once they reach adulthood. The cost of funding a church building, pastor and ministry continues to rise faster than offerings.
Between the pressures of society and the steady decline, congregations are experiencing a sense of powerlessness.
Where Do I Stand?
Fellow clergy and congregational leaders have described me as “black and white” and “direct.” It’s true, I’m fond of the old saying, “Say what you mean and mean what you say.” That would be a real problem if I had lost hope for our churches.
Fortunately, I do hold out hope for our congregations and schools.
Am I hopeful that suddenly half our churches will double in attendance? No. Am I hopeful in the next five years we’ll start twice as many new churches than we have the past twenty years? No. I’m too much of a realist to make such claims.
Still, I am hopeful the Church and our congregations have a future.
Why I Have Hope
Our sense of powerlessness in the face of our challenges is reason for hope. As long as we held out hope we could overcome obstacles ourselves, we risked trying to meet the challenges by our own wisdom and strength. We’re now admitting we can’t. As a result, we confess we are fully reliant upon God.
Furthermore, we are longing for hope for our churches, not for our eternal salvation. This is because our churches still place our hope in Jesus. The foundation of “grace alone,” “faith alone” and “Scripture alone” is strong in our congregations. Because of God’s grace given through Jesus, we are confident God has made us His people.
Finally, God is already leading congregations to tackle the obstacles we face. People with no real background in church are being catechized and baptized. Churches have figured out ways of funding the church that go beyond our historic means. Millennials are joining some of our churches. I’m committed to finding ways for our churches to encourage and equip one another to address our challenges.
More to Come
From the point of view of our Synod, my primary role is visitation. I am responsible for ensuring all 161 churches are visited in the next three years. I plan on personally making as many of those visits as possible. I’ll have opportunities to better unpack why I do hold out hope for the future of our congregations and schools.
Until then, the Lord richly bless your observation of Advent and celebration of Christmas.